we’re so back (in billings)

by maliajaffrani 

Once again, the last weekend of August has rolled around to face us. Our lulling summer days are over, and school has begun. For the past three years, I have tried every spot on campus to find a place to sit and study peacefully. It started at the armpit of Howe–where everyone and their mother goes; then to the fishbowl (which I found out doesn’t exist). Dana Medical Library?? Forget it; I got lost and locked in some random hallway where I didn’t have a keycard to get out, then panicked and cried. Outside is great unless the sun is glaring on my computer screen and my wifi goes out, and then I get a nice tan line where the fabric of my top meets my exposed skin–the mowing gets a little incessant. The anthropology floor in Williams is an excellent place to seek out if you miss climbing the mountains, and I have too much PTSD from Innovation. But Billings? Oh Billings, I love you, especially right after classes change. 

I find a little cozy spot at a table on the second floor near the wall, where whispers echo, and the chairs scrape the floorboards. It is peacefully quiet. I feel like I am a character in The Secret History or living the dark academic dream. My senses are heightened in this environment, and I perceive the scents of old books, the faint whiff of ink, and the comforting aroma of paper. I like to wear my headphones, although I usually do not listen to anything (sometimes some classical music to calm my ADHD). It lessens the chance that someone will approach me. The ​​Richardsonian Romanesque gothic stone has me mentally looking for ghosts. As you move further into this temple of knowledge, the world outside seems to fade away, replaced by an enfolded stillness that envelopes your senses. High ceilings and polished marble floors ensure every footstep reverberates softly, no matter how delicate. The walls, lined with shelves upon shelves of books, act as sound-absorbing barriers, preventing even the faintest whispers from escaping into the open air. Its dark and dreamy interior makes me want to look at my Microbiology journal articles for hours. How productive!

Within the past week, I have spent around 20 hours in Billings–yes, in the first week (5 days x 4 hours/day = 20 hours/week in the library). My brain sometimes feels fried, so I tune into the library around me. Most of the time, I finish my homework and then read–Albert Camus has definitely been my go-to (sorry to my Goodreads followers, I am insufferable). But more recently, I have been drawn to the noises of the library, as if I am a fly watching on the wall. I see all and hear all.

As if it is breathing and living, Billings is full of life! I can hear the soft scratches behind the wall as little mice probably want to say hello and eat my lunch. I hear the quiet conversations of the people around me–some sweet talking and some full of blasphemy. Once in a while, I hear a water bottle drop, and it echoes through the mahogany walls. Like silent sentinels, they sit hunched over tables and desks, their faces illuminated by the concentration and effort put into studying, assignments, and quizzes. Sneezes are muffled by the eternal opera of turning pages and the symphony of typing.

The most soundlessly noticeable things begin to happen in the library. Around noon-time, there is a quiet interval of the day as most people leave for lunch. I am just arriving. The wooden bookshelves, laden with writing of all sizes and genres, seem to lean toward each other conspiratorially as if sharing secrets in the intimate language of books behind glass. 

Sometimes, if I am lucky, I sit in the squishy chairs and feel the worn armrests and indented seats. I wonder how many people have sat here before–disguising their snacking by sticking food wrappers underneath the cushion. I can hear sighs and sniffles of weariness and frat flu. I wonder what they’re studying. But I think the most obscure thing is the absence of time–3 hours can go by quickly when you are busy in an environment surrounded by students and faculty with a respectful shared understanding for the pursuit of knowledge. Sometimes, it gets annoying when people like to have overenthusiastic, whisper-screaming conversations–I give a bombastic side-eye.

Before the library closes on a sunny day, which is a startling early 6 pm because grandpa has to get some rest, you can see the light beams fading through the windows, illuminating a time for sunset and dust (and probably mildew) particles dancing in the air. I wish I could take a picture. I wonder what this place would be like if I snuck in in the middle of night… Oh yeah, I am so back–except get another bathroom Billings!

Categories: malia jaffrani, sept. 19, side bar, Vol 27

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